Q&A: Holly Randall Lights Erotic Prisms
LOS ANGELES — As deftly as a dreamcatcher, Holly Randall plucks luminous strands of purifying light, threading their shadow-healing radiance through crystal lenses.
Redemptive rays thus bathe erotic models, whose forms she gracefully arranges with marionette mindfulness, so every camera flash is a painterly matchstick flame.
Her best-laid plans rarely go awry, for she builds each shoot from a bird’s-eye view, designing sets with all the magnificence of a cathedral architect. Immaculate floors are swept with monastic Zen focus — be they tiled, wood-wrought or swaying grassblades — so that even the roughest edges spiral with fractal elegance.
Familiar as she is with nature, Randall seduces the morning and evening colors to make of windowless vistas a framed masterpiece. Vines are molded, ferns are combed and the slightest crack or sideways splinter is straightened to satisfaction. Likewise at ease with artifice, Randall can massage the finest mink drapery to a liquid softness, so it dances frozen in mid-flight. With the fickle air itself she conspires, to make of flaxen hair a fluttering swallowtail and render fabrics a shimmering river.
That she commands such orderly symmetry from chaos is as much a product of her 18-year career as family pedigree. Heiress to her mother Suze’s legendary legacy, Randall has distinguished herself with the sort of grandeur befitting an unbroken dynasty. Encouraged by her father, a noteworthy sociologist and history author, she graduated from UCLA in 2003 with a B.A. in World Literature — not for profit or future pursuits, but her own edification. That alone, speaks highly of her caliber.
Besides shooting content for HollyRandall.com, which won the XBIZ Award for Adult Site of the Year — Photography in 2014 and 2016, she counts among her biggest clients Twistys, Digital Playground and Playboy Plus. Ever driven by a tinge of wanderlust, Randall is now exploring the pedagogical realm of photography workshops, teaching fundamentals and nuanced lessons to many an eager novice.
Lest any facet of her multi-dimensional personality and expert photography skills be dealt short shrift, XBIZ delved into the darkroom with Randall, to develop a pristine picture of a woman worth far more than a thousand words.
XBIZ: Tell us about your early days shooting erotic photography, and how you’ve evolved since then, artistically. Did your UCLA studies at all influence your approach to the adult industry?
Holly Randall: I wouldn’t say that UCLA influenced my approach to the adult industry at all. I just wanted to have a degree, since everyone in my family has a college degree and I didn’t want to be the one asshole that didn’t. I also love English literature. And, when I was going to UCLA, I don’t think I knew that I was going to be in porn for the rest of my life. Because, when I started working for my parents, I was just helping out in the office, doing web maintenance stuff. So, I thought I’d be doing that while I went to UCLA and then kind of branch off into doing something else. But, I just found that the adult industry was a good fit for me. I really liked it.
Obviously, working for my parents and growing up in the Suze Randall bubble is a lot different than what most people experience. I’ve heard stories about things that go on in other porn sets and I think that if I’d started off working on gonzo sets or something like that, I wouldn’t have done it. But, because I started at the top and we were producing high-end stuff, doing really beautiful work, it was almost like “fashion porn.” We had so much creative control over what we were doing and I was working with my family. It was fun, it was cool and it was not what I thought it was going to be.
Now, I’m obviously better than I was back then. I’ve experimented more with different kinds of lighting and shooting. My mom had a very cookie cutter look to her work and she never really changed it, whereas I like to try different things. It’s really my video work that has evolved the most over the years, though, because that was something that I had to kind of teach myself. I went to photography school and I’ve done photography since I was 12, so that was easy. But then, when I saw where the industry was going and I saw that video was going to be the new thing, I thought to myself “oh shit, I better figure out how to do that.” I didn’t know about sound, the microphone having to be near them, or anything like that — I had no idea what I was doing. So, my video work has seen the most dramatic change, through trial and error, looking at other people’s work, researching, asking about cameras, being hungry for that information and constantly wanting to improve my products.
XBIZ: What distinguishes your shoots from the competition, style-wise?
Randall: I would say attention to detail is my biggest thing. Recently, I was doing a shoot against a wall covered in bamboo and there was a corner where two pieces of bamboo didn’t meet exactly — you could see a strip of the cement. And I just couldn't leave it as is. We needed to put bamboo sticks in there to cover it, because if there’s one thing off in the photo — and I see it, and I don’t fix it — it makes me crazy. And that’s all I see later, because I could’ve fixed that. Just little things like trees growing out of somebody’s head or body makeup matter to me a lot. That’s a big thing, by the way — a lot of people don’t do body makeup, and girls definitely need it. For instance, they’ll have zits on their butt or they’ll have ingrown hairs or whatever. I remember I was once watching this video, it was beautiful and the girl looked great. It had these really cool shadows and it was very sensual. Then, she takes her panties off and she’s got this huge… ingrown… fucking massive red blemish on her pubic area and that completely took me out of the moment. That’s gross.
Most people don’t do that. They don’t fix it. They do the makeup on the face, they shoot the video and the girl’s got fucking zits all over her ass and they just leave it, they think that’s fine. And I can’t handle that, it’s so distracting to me. If I’m creating a fantasy, then I’m going to create a fantasy… with this… perfect woman. So, I’m really picky about my hair and makeup people. There’s very few that I will work with, because I don’t like artists who just do everybody the same, with that “super porno” look — really heavy makeup, with dark, dark eyes. That will work for some looks, but it’s got to fit the scenario, so we’ll often change looks throughout the day if I’m doing multiple variations — we’ll change the hair, the makeup and the outfits, because they all have to work together. Styling is very important to me, as is lighting obviously, especially consistency. I like my pictures to have consistent exposure from the beginning to the end. A lot of people are sloppy that way. They’re all “oh, just fix it in Photoshop and who cares if there’s a cord in the shot and who cares if there’s a water bottle back there or the bed’s not made.” Unmade beds make me crazy! I’ll go back there and fix pillows. I’m always going to go all the way.
XBIZ: Which of your revenue streams have proven most profitable, and how do you divide your time between them? Does your style differ depending on clients?
Randall: I probably make the most shooting for other clients, so that’s where I pay most of my attention. Obviously I run my website and I have a DVD line, but it’s brand new so I haven’t seen anything from that yet. I’m also now doing photography workshops, trying to get those off the ground, grow and expand them — so my attention may shift, depending on how that goes. Twistys, Digital Playground and Playboy Plus are some of my biggest clients. I shoot different styles for each of them. With Playboy, it’s softcore and it’s girls who don’t work in porn. So, I have to conduct myself a little differently with those girls, especially because I work in porn. I need to make sure they don’t feel uncomfortable, or that I’m not pushing them in a direction they don’t want to go in. So, I kind of edit my speech around them. I talk to them first before we shoot, asking what they’re cool with and not cool with, because every girl has different limitations — especially Playboy girls. A lot of the ones I shoot are new, and they’ve never modeled or done nude modeling before. So, I take a different approach to them versus if I shoot a seasoned porn star.
I usually have a bigger budget with Playboy to spend on locations, and there are certain locations that are okay with Playboy shoots, but not okay with regular porn, so I have a bigger array of options. Playboy also gives me a lot of creative freedom. It’s pretty much “here’s a girl, do whatever you want.” So, I’m able to do all kinds of stuff — I can be really playful sometimes. I shot Cybergirl of the Year Gia Ramey-Gay in Mexico, and we did basically a Mad Max apocalyptic shoot in a junkyard out there. We did face paint on her and that was really cool… that was something I probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with doing for a lot of my other clients. So, because it’s more about the girl and less about how many vagina shots I get or hardcore sex, I can focus more on getting aesthetically beautiful pictures. It’s a different kind of feel.
For Twistys, they give me quite a bit of creative freedom, although lately — especially for their girl/girl scenes — they’ve been giving me specific treatments. So, they’re saying “we want this kind of scene.” A little bit more direction. They don’t usually give me two girls and let me shoot whatever I want. For example, I recently shot two girls mountain biking, but that’s kind of all the direction they gave me, certain things to hit. With their “Mom Knows Best” scenes it’s important that the MILF is dominant over the teen, right, so that’s something that I take into account but they don’t give me specific scripts — they just give me concepts and ideas and I kind of go with it. As far as conveying dominance, that informs the kinds of positions performers do, the way that they interact with each other, all that kind of stuff.
As for Digital Playground, they’re very specific about their shoots. They send me a script and treatments with lots of very specific details, like what kind of clothing they want them to wear. And, we go back and forth a lot, during frequent Skype meetings with their production team. They want me to run almost every single detail by them, so they’re very hands-on. Every studio has their preferences for input or lack of input. But, honestly, if you’re paying me, I’ll shoot it, whether I get full creative freedom or not. Unless, of course, it’s something I find personally distasteful, or whatever. It helps that I have a little bit of theatrical experience. I’m not a good actress per se, but I’m good at directing, coming up with stupid lines. Let me put it this way… I’d be a great porn actress, but not a good mainstream one!
XBIZ: You host various photography workshops. What are the key lessons you impart to rookies and what tips do you have for seasoned pros? How do you approach teaching?
Randall: It’s pretty much just rookies signing up so far. This is all very new too — I’m only doing my second one in November. So super… super new. I taught a couple of fully clothed workshops at Glamourcon as part of the Glamourcon convention. It was just there on a white seamless background, very standard. I did a couple lectures, but these workshops I’m doing now are the first time I’ve been all on my own with it. It’s funny… there’s so much to teach people, I end up having a hard time kind of compartmentalizing it… lest I end up doing too much and overwhelming people. So, my first workshop was about lighting and posing — I really focused on different kinds of light modifiers, for instance. We would have one setup with the beauty dish and I’d talk about its light quality, how that’s distinct from what I used in the next set, which was the octobank, which achieves a different look and feel. I go through the way I set them up, how I shoot them and posing too, which is another really important thing that I think is one of my strengths… whereas a lot of people are not so particular about it as I am.
Take hands for instance. Hands are a big deal. A lot of people do “the claw,” especially certain girls — their hands are just weird. So, I always tell them you should flip your hands up as if you’re revving a motorcycle. Your hand is as big as your face, right? Everybody’s is. So, if you have a picture showing the big, bulky back of the hand, or even front of the hand, it ends up looking very masculine, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to emphasize femininity. So, I usually have people turn their hands slightly, so you see all the fingers, which helps thin out the hand a little bit. It’s just more graceful, looks better. It’s little things such as that. Or, people sometimes do other awkward positions, where they're gripping the edge of the table, putting their shoulders too high up in their face, not arching their back or not pointing their toes. That last one makes me go especially crazy! When people don’t point their toes, that’s my pet peeve. I will tell a bitch to point her toes all fucking day. I will tie your feet into that position if you don’t keep pointing your damn toes. Because, it just looks sloppy to me and lazy. You should resemble a graceful ballerina in all of your shots! That’s really important to me.
And then, you have to perfect the lines of the body. Limbs coming straight at the camera look kind of flattened, foreshortened and bigger, because what you’re doing is you’re taking a three-dimensional image and you’re squashing it into a two-dimensional image, right? So, the lines of the body are very important because if I hold my hand out to you in-person, you can judge how long my arm actually is, but in a photo… my hand in your face is going to look weird, foreshortened, fat and bizarre. All these things matter, such as how the hair falls! Oh my god, when people have girls laying down on their back and their hair is up in the air… that makes me crazy! Just put her hair down, nice and neatly. Also, the placement of the clothes is critical. How the clothes are falling, how they’re fitting a girl, there’s just so many things. Those are all details I focused on during my last workshop.
The next workshop will be called “Building the Shot.” So, I’ll really take my students step-by-step through my reasons for picking a particular location, the wardrobe I decide my model wears, their makeup and hair. Then, they’ll see me literally build the shots, bringing in the light and metering all of them to where I want it. They’ll watch me shoot a set with the girl and I’ll explain why I have her do certain things, then they’ll each get a chance to shoot the same girl in that same setup. I’m taking this approach because of the feedback I got from my last workshop, where I was more about letting them take lots of shots. It’s funny, because I come to these workshops with a producer state of mind, where I’m figuring these people probably want to shoot as much content as they can for their portfolio, right? Where there’s almost more shooting time and less teaching time. But, in the feedback I got from the last one, a lot of people asked for more teaching time. They wanted to learn why I shoot a certain way, why I set up lights a certain way, et cetera. So, I’m more focused on that than I am on the actual shooting now. Because, if they don’t understand why they’re shooting things a certain way, why it’s lit that way, then it’s not very useful to them. I’m also going to do a post-production session at the end, showing how I edit my pictures, apply basic filters and Photoshop, the way I do before I submit my work to clients, as well as my process for submitting them.
It’s all a new experience for me. I’m trying to figure out what people want and what’s the most useful to them. How it all works. Because, I definitely want people to walk away feeling that they learned a lot, that they got some incredible shots and stuff they’re able to use. Because my classes aren’t cheap, I recognize that, but I’m also not going to teach people how I do what I do — which has taken me 18 years of cumulative knowledge — for nothing. Especially when I’m busy enough as it is! So, the workshops are very much something that’s in progress. I’ve got a big learning curve, I know that, but I’m hoping to foray eventually into instructional DVDs and maybe offer online classes. There’s just so much to learn and I feel as if I have so much I can teach people, so I’m trying to give all the information without it being too much. I’m marketing it through social media mostly and word of mouth.
XBIZ: What is your career game plan for the next 5 years?
Randall: I’m looking to obviously expand the workshops and get that going off the ground a little bit more and I’m really looking to get into virtual reality. I don’t know, I find you can have a game plan, but life is kind of funny that way. You know what they say and it is kind of cliché, but “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” It’s totally true! You never know what’s going to happen. Weird opportunities come and knock on your door that you never expected. Or, things you thought you really were going to do or do really well for you, end up falling through the cracks. So, I certainly have planned out things that I’m trying to do, but I also try to leave myself open to opportunities and recognize that you need to keep an open mind, for when the universe comes knocking. In the meanwhile, I’m just trying to live a good life and be a good person.